NASHVILLE -- Two former Tennessee governors -- Republican Bill Haslam and Democrat Phil Bredesen -- are joining forces for a new political podcast that aims to avoid the usual shouting matches and focus on issues with civility while seeking common ground on tough topics.
Haslam, Bredesen and the Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy at the University of Tennessee unveiled the eight-episode 'You Might be Right" podcast last week at the Rotary Club of Nashville. The first episode was released Wednesday.
The podcast draws its name from a favorite phrase used by Baker, the late Tennessee Republican and political pragmatist from tiny Huntsville, Tennessee, who rose to become U.S. Senate majority leader and later served as chief of staff to former President Ronald Reagan before becoming U.S. ambassador to Japan.
Baker was known for his willingness to work across party lines.
Bredesen, a former Nashville mayor who later served as governor from 2003 to 2011, described to Rotary attendees how Haslam approached him and suggested they find some way to "engage in some conversations" about contentious issues where people tend to "get into our corners on."
The purpose is to see how much difference there actually is, Bredesen said, or "if there there really is space where you can agree on some things and be able to move forward on."
"The two of us, I guess to be fair, represent probably sort of the center of our respective areas," Bredesen said. "So basically, it's a little easier for us to talk than some."
Haslam, a former Knoxville mayor who succeeded Bredesen as governor and served from 2011 to 2019, posed what he called a quick question to attendees.
"How many people are frustrated and exhausted by the current state of politics in our country?" he asked.
About two-thirds of attendees' hands shot up.
"The question is, what are we doing to do about it?" Haslam said. "So I have great respect for Gov. Bredesen. You actually learn a lot about someone when you follow them (in office). We're very different people, we have some different beliefs on things.
"But when you follow someone, you learn whether they were really trying to do the right thing or not," Haslam added. "And I have had the privilege of following Gov. Bredesen and saw that he really did try to solve the biggest problems we had."
Haslam cited as an example an issue Bredesen faced after becoming governor. Bredesen soon found himself in a battle with advocates of the poor as well as many of his fellow Democrats in the General Assembly as he fought to get costs under control for TennCare. That's the state's Medicaid health coverage program for low-income pregnant women, parents or caretakers of a minor child, children and people who are elderly or have a disability.
An estimated 190,000 adults were disenrolled, prompting protests and lawsuits.
Haslam noted Baker, known as "The Great Conciliator," had his own controversies, including his 1978 support of the Panama Canal Treaties. It was highly unpopular among Republicans and was seen as harmful to Baker's 1980 presidential bid, which he soon ended.
Haslam, who had once worked as an intern in Baker's office, described Baker as a "Tennessee hero and my friend and mentor."
The presentation to Nashville Rotarians included an audio remark by Baker.
"Bipartisanship is always the right thing," Baker said. "Partisanship is the way we test ideas, but partisanship must not be so arbitrary and so firm that you never admit other ideas or at least listen to the other fellow's point of view."
In the podcast's first episode, Haslam and Bredesen discuss gun violence with Arne Duncan, a former U.S. secretary of education and founder of Chicago CRED, a nonprofit group focused on reducing gun violence. Also joining in the podcast is conservative David French, senior editor of The Dispatch, a former attorney involved in religious liberty cases as well as a former fellow of the National Review Institute and staff writer for National Review.
Baker Center Executive Director Marianne Wanamaker encouraged people to tune into the podcast if they have an interest in politics and policy or if they wish to learn a little bit more about a certain topic.
"It is our hope at the Baker Center that while a listener may not change their mind after an episode, they come away with new appreciation for civil discourse and the effort to find common ground," she said.
Later episode topics will include affordable housing and climate change.
Upcoming podcast guests include former Vice President and former U.S. Sen. Al Gore, a Tennessee Democrat, former Tennessee governor and former U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, another Tennessee Republican, and former U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican.